Feature Archive

Can Your Cholesterol Be Too Low?

Unlike a lot of men, the writer never worried about cholesterol -- until some surprising studies linked low cholesterol to violent behavior.

WebMD Feature

June 26, 2000 -- "This can't be right," the medical technician tells me, reading a number off the small display screen. "We'll have to do the test one more time."

"But wait," I object, telling her that my cholesterol level has always been on the low side. No use. Not once but twice, she jabs the tip of my finger and squeezes out a few drops of blood to test. The numbers remain stubbornly low: barely over 120. The average for most people is around 180.

As usual, I feel an absurd swell of pride at the results of the blood test, as if I've just passed an exam with flying colors. I've always counted myself lucky. Unlike a lot of men, I don't have to worry about cholesterol -- that notorious clogger of arteries.

Or so I thought. Then, a few months ago I read a headline that made me wonder: Low Cholesterol Linked to Violence, Suicide.

Violence? Suicide? Is it possible that someone's cholesterol level might be too low?

Smashing Cars and Other Things

To find out, I put in a call to Vivian Mitropoulou, PhD, who is studying the link between cholesterol levels and personality disorders at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. The alarm sounded in the mid-1980s, she tells me, after researchers began testing the first drugs designed to lower elevated cholesterol levels. People taking these drugs seemed to be dying at an unusually high rate from causes unrelated to cardiovascular disease, she says.